This post for Friday March 25 is the last entry in the Lenten devotional. It is also Good Friday, our remembrance of the last day in the life of Jesus. Our journey with John Calvin through two chapters of the Institutes has been a meditation on cross carrying. On Good Friday we remember the cross.
What have we learned during these past week?
I have been reminded that John Calvin is a deep thinker who believes that Christians should be characterized by deep thinking. He never hesitated to look at both sides of an issue or provide nuance and clarification when he thought it was helpful. During this same period of time, I have been simultaneously convicted that the course of our modern world does not encourage deep thinking and this impacts me more than I would like to admit. I believe that we all need to look for ways to push back at the constant distractions and 140 character sound bytes which threaten to swamp serious reflection.
I have been thinking about the central role of self denial in the Christian life. The sheer volume of material related to self denial is staggering. But the title of chapter 7 really said it all, regarding Calvin's view: "The Sum of the Christian Life: The Denial of Ourselves." This has vast implications for our day to day life. Our modern world does not view self-denial as a central virtue. In fact it is often regarded as undesirable and even dangerous. Again, our modern world influences me more than I like. Often, I find myself asking "how can I get the most possible comfort out of this situation?" But, during the past weeks I have found myself more often thinking about how a given situation offers opportunities for self-denial. This is a transforming thought.
Calvin has reminded me that the goal of self-denial is to draw closer to God. Our own experience of "the cross" in our personal suffering should never be disconnected from our relationship with God through Christ. When we speak of Christians bearing a cross, we are reminded that Christ first bore his cross. When we endure suffering we are reminded that we are sharing the fellowship of Christ's suffering. Our experience of the cross leads us closer to Jesus. At many places Calvin drew us back to this reality. Let me recap a few:
"We are not our own... we are God's let us therefore live for him and die for him." (3.7.1)
"How much can it do to soften all the bitterness of the cross, that the more we are afflicted with adversities, the more surely our fellowship with Christ is confirmed." (3.8.1)
"Wounded by grief and sorrow, we rest in the spiritual consolation of God." (3.8.8)
"The bitterness of the cross is tempered with spiritual joy." (3.8.11)
"For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-- that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead." - Philippians 3:8-11
Special thanks to Justin for sharing the teaching load with me. And thank you to all who shared this journey with us - for your comments and your prayers. Happy Easter! (He is risen indeed!) - Matt